Auster’s story-within-a-story honors Hector Mann, a mysterious silent film star who captivates the narrator, a Vermont teacher named David Zimmer. The despondent Zimmer, still reckoning with the plane crash death of his wife and daughter, writes a book about Mann (who disappeared in 1929), a “man with an inexhaustible talent for running into bad luck.”
When Zimmer gets a letter that purports to be from Mann’s widow, he drops everything and goes to New Mexico, where story and love affair take shape. Auster is peerless in conjuring characters who — once on their feet — marvel at the make-believe around them. Zimmer’s Hector Mann is as vivid as butterscotch and his realness part of the greater illusion. The world is full of “microscopic rifts that the mind could walk through,” says Zimmer. Auster has a soft spot for such rifts and the novel is proof.